Nessel, other AGs call on Amazon, Whole Foods to provide paid leave during COVID-19

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel her peers in 13 states and the District of Columbia Wednesday in calling on Amazon and Whole Foods to provide paid sick and family leave to their employees during the COVID-19 public health emergency.  

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

In their letter, the attorneys general ask the companies to provide paid sick and family leave as required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), which was enacted by Congress March 19 to ensure paid leave for workers during this crisis.  

“Federal law provides certain guidelines for paid leave, and employers have an obligation to abide by those rules,” Nessel said. “Moreover, considering grocery stores are one of the places being frequented by consumers, extra precautions should be taken into account.” 

The attorneys general write that the recent offer from Whole Foods and its owner Amazon to provide two weeks of paid leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine is far less than what the Families First Act requires and what other large employers have provided.

Under the Families First Act, employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide two weeks of fully paid time off to full- and part-time workers to self-quarantine, seek preventative care or receive treatment for COVID-19; two weeks paid time off at two-thirds their regular pay for full- and part-time workers to care for family members; and 12 weeks of job-protected leave at no less than two-thirds of their usual rate of pay to take care of children if their school or daycare closes. 

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In the letter, the attorneys general urge Amazon and Whole Foods to adopt the requirements in the Families First Act for smaller employers and additionally to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who must stay at home to care for children due to school closures or for themselves and family members if diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined. Finally, the attorneys general ask Amazon not to overlook their delivery drivers who are classified as independent contractors and to provide additional money to their Emergency Fund for those workers, so that they also receive comparable benefits as their other employees.   

Grocery stores such as Whole Foods remain one of the few places where people are regularly congregating in close quarters, and the attorneys general write that it is especially important to ensure these stores do everything possible to minimize the risk of infection. Additionally, with consumers relying more than ever on online shopping, Amazon warehouses are a significant site for possible transmission of the virus both from worker to worker and to the general public.   

In sending the letter, Nessel is joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.  

Complaints coming

Meanwhile, Nessel provided guidance on how to file complaints about individuals and businesses not complying with Whitmer’s executive orders implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are unprecedented times and my office is working with (Whitmer’s) office, local law enforcement agencies and other parties to ensure these executive orders are being followed,” said Nessel, whose Consumer Protection intake lines were flooded with phone calls. “The orders are in place to protect the public health and welfare of Michigan’s residents, and consequences will result to those found to be in willful violation. By working together through this public health emergency and staying home, we can help slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state.” 

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection intake team will continue to receive consumer reports of price-gouging and scams. Those can be made online or by calling the office’s tip line at 877-765-8388. 

Complaints about other violations of the governor’s executive orders should be directed to local law enforcement agencies.

Anyone seeking interpretation of an executive order should first review those orders and the Frequently Asked Questions listed on the state’s website devoted to COVID-19. Weblinks to those pages and additional information can also be found through the Attorney General’s website

If an answer is not found, requests for an interpretation of an executive order can be emailed. Responses to those inquiries will likely be delayed as the Attorney General’s office discusses them with the Governor’s Office for a final determination.  “This situation is fluid and rapidly changing, and we appreciate your patience,” Nessel said. “We’re all in this together and we are counting on every resident to do everything they can to stay safe, stay healthy and stay home.”